Here in Florida warm weather, sunshine, and shallow waters in the Gulf make it possible to catch a variety of species any day you choose. When northern winds cause water temps to cool, we begin to see a regeneration of winter fish. Sheepshead fishing is one of our favorite winter past-times!
Sheepshead is characteristically large with thick, hard to remove scales, spiny dorsal fins, and a zebra-like color pattern. Their mouths are filled with “sheep-like” teeth perfect for crunching crustaceans and mollusks. They also make great photos.
Sheepshead is typically found in brackish water, in addition to jetties, pylons, and docks. Their favor for partially sheltered locations make them perfect winter fishing. You don’t have to own a boat or travel far on the water to find them and therefore don’t have to fight the winds and tides to bring home a nice meal.
Sheepshead adults average two feet or more with larger specimens coming in at three-feet and eleven pounds! Regulations require they be twelve inches long to keep. You can harvest a maximum of eight per person per day, and they are open year-round.
Sheepshead work in schools. With one fish going in to stir things up, the others follow closely behind with intentions to consume all the table fare available. They hit fast and hard, and their mouths full of teeth can make them difficult to hook. They are different from snappers, but will often reside nearby. Where you find one, you will typically find a few friends.
Sheepshead eats barnacles, fiddler crabs, and shrimp. Shrimp are the universal bait for most fish. You may use them whole, but we recommend breaking them into pieces to assure you’re not just chumming for Sheepshead. To learn how to harvest fiddler crabs yourself, refer to this video.
The powers that be rate Sheepshead as ‘excellent’ on an edibility scale.
In the early 19th century, Sheepshead graced the fine dining establishments of New York. In Cajun restaurants, they appear on the menu as “bay snapper” and “rondeau seabream.” From the far north, down the Atlantic coast, and throughout the Gulf of Mexico residents refer to them as “poor man’s lobster.”
A Sheepshead’s thick, white meat is full of good-for-you fats, and their delicate meat pairs well with almost any flavor combination. Because their scales are thick, you can bake or grill them whole (see video for demonstration).
Some of the more common flavor pairings include:
- Lemon & Herbs
- Butter & Herbs
- Butter & White Wine
Sheepshead is one of the many fish you’ll find in Florida this time of year. They are also one of the most pronounced fish you’ll see roaming Terra Ceia Bay. Because our resort rests right on the water, we can’t help but toss a line out as we see them passing by.
Join us at our dock or on the water this winter – or any time of year. The Sheepshead will be here.
We look forward to fishing with you soon!